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Interviewing Advice for Aspiring SDRs

Here is the general advice I give a fresh grads who are interviewing for SDR roles and trying to break into tech.

1. Understand the SDR Job

You need to understand the role that you are applying for. Some of the fresh grads I work with already know what SDRs do, maybe through a prior internship, friends currently in the role, or through research. But many don't, and this is a quick way to get cut from the interview process.

So if you aren't really sure what the SDR role is, you should start by Googling: "What is a Sales Development Rep?"

Here is a great definition of sales development from The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi: "A specialized sales role focused on the front-end of the sales process - qualifying inbound leads and/or conducting outbound prospecting - to generate sales pipeline."

SDRs are setting sales appointments, either introductory meetings or qualified opportunities, for the Account Executives. AEs carry a revenue quota, run demos, and negotiate and close deals.

You'll want to dive into the day-to-day of the SDR job, and what the common challenges are that you might face. Having an understanding of what you will be doing, what challenges you will face, and why you will be able to overcome those challenges are crucial to succeeding in the SDR interview process. Here is a solid rundown on a day in the life of an SDR.

You can accomplish this by talking to friends who are already SDRs. I also recommend following some of the Top Voices in Sales on LinkedIn and see what they are talking about. One of these Sales Leaders, Morgan J. Ingram hosts a podcast called The SDR Chronicles that could be a good deep dive. Either way, learning the SaaS sales lingo could give a huge leg up in the interview process, and show that you are highly serious about sales. Rather than thinking this might show your sales expertise - which you probably don't have and shouldn't pretend that you have - it'll show your willingness to learn.

In addition to learning what it takes to succeed in the SDR role, you'll also want to consider mid-term and long-term goals. Do you want to be in SaaS sales for the long haul? It's okay if you don't, but many hiring managers really like it when you do. Think about your goals, whether that's earning a promotion to AE or into Sales Management, or something else.

Here are some expectations for timeline and compensation around promotions -

  • The average time you should expect to cut your teeth in an SDR role is 18 months. Sometimes promotions to SDR Manager or Account Executive come faster, maybe because your performance is out the roof, or the company is growing fast and has the need. Sometimes promotions take longer, and it's good to have the drive and ambition to want a promotion, but not feel entitled to a fast one.
  • The average comp for a entry-level SDR in San Francisco is a 50-60k base and around a 70-80k On Target Earnings (OTE). It's usually less than this in other markets, like San Diego, Austin, or Denver. AE's can expect to make a 60-80k base and 120-160k OTE early in their career. Some of the top Enterprise AEs are at a 250-300k OTE or more.

2. Treat the Interview Process like a Sales Process

Your potential sales ability is being judged during the interview process, so you must treat it like a sale.

  • You must show them that you took the time to research and prepare for the interview, as you would with a prospect or potential client. Before the interview, you should browse the corporate website, and learn more about their product, industry, target client profile, and competition. You should also look at the LinkedIn profile of the person you will be interviewing with, so you can research their background and find possible topics to build rapport. Sometimes, an interviewer is as blunt to ask, "what do you already know about me?" to gauge how much you prepared for the call. Most of the time it's more subtle, and they are looking for signs that you've done your homework.
  • Have a strong WHY, and be able to articulate it well. Your research on the company should hopefully lead you down the path of being able to enthusiastically articulate your interest, and why you want to be a sales rep for them. The more specific you can be about what excites you about the mission/product and the role, the better.
  • The first 1-2 interviews will be over the phone, and how you sound on the phone is incredibly important. You are applying for an inside sales role after all, and you will be on the phones all day. Make sure you sound energetic, enthusiastic, and engaged. Show them you have solid communication skills, especially your listening skills, and take notes during the call.
  • If you can't sell yourself, you can't sell. For interviews, you should also prepare and practice your pitch, just like you would practice your sales scripts. If the interviewer says, "tell me a little bit about yourself..." they aren't asking for you to recite the bullet points off your resume, they want you to sell yourself, so be ready to give a great introduction of yourself and tell your story. As you sell yourself throughout the interview, tailor your strengths and experience to the profile the company wants. The company's Career page and Job Ad should inform you of the profile they are looking for. For example, "I saw on your Career page that you are looking for X, and I think that I have that because..." 
  • Provide supporting evidence for all your claims. You wouldn't pitch a product without evidence, so don't sell yourself without it either. Generalities are actively harmful in a sales interview. Instead of just saying “I’ve been very successful as a salesperson,” discuss your metrics, awards, and specific deals you’ve closed. You should do the same for claims related to your leadership abilities, work ethic, ability to work as part of a team, and anything else you discuss.
  • Ask thoughtful questions. I will have a section on this later.
  • Close on the interviewer at the end of the interview. Give a closing statement, reiterating why you think you'd be a good fit for the role. Finish with a closing question that is direct but not over-assumptive - "Do you think I'd be a good fit? What are the next interview steps? When will I know if I'm moving forward?" If you want to be in sales, you have to close :)
  • Send a Thank You email after the call. Keep it short but sweet, and reiterate why you are excited about the opportunity and why you believe you'd be a good fit.

3. Interview Questions You Should Prepare For

These are the very basics -

  • Why sales? Why SaaS/tech sales?
  • Why {company name}?
  • Why you?

Here is a really good thought piece about the "why sales" question that I got from a Sales Leader on Linkedin. I feel bad that I didn't write down who wrote this, so I can't attribute this, but it's money!

The CLASSIC Interview Question: Why do you want to be in sales?

"I’m a people person. I’m a people pleaser. I like to connect with people. I like to make people happy."

If these are your top reasons for getting into sales, you may end up underwhelmed with the choice.

More often, sales requires making people feel uncomfortable. Making them realize they have problems they didn’t know they have. Making them realize they need to spend money they weren’t prepared to spend. They may very well not be happy throughout these conversations, but your job isn’t to make them happy, it’s to get them to make the right decision to solve their problem.

So, why do you want to get into sales?

"I like to challenge people. I like to persuade people. I enjoy a good debate. I thrive in a competitive environment. I work well under pressure. I like to win."

If these are your reasons, you’re probably cut out for the job.

For the "Why you?", you should use the company's Career page, Job page, and Values to determine the profile of candidate they are looking for, and come up with specific examples for how you are a good fit.

But obviously the actual interviews will involve far more questions than just these. So let's put ourselves in the shoes of the interviewers for a second. Hiring great people is just as much a challenge for a company as it is for a job seeker to land a job. This article is a great read that explains how hiring managers might approach interview questions, and can inform us what to prepare for - How to Hire a Top Performer Every Time With These Interview Questions.

The article explains the seven characteristics that, taken together, best translate into someone killing it at their job - grit, rigor, impact, teamwork, ownership, curiosity, and polish. Then it explains the potential interview questions to ask to uncover these High Performer Traits in a candidate, as well as what to listen for. As a candidate, you can reverse engineer your answers.

For grit, ask:

  • Tell us about a time in your career that you wanted something so badly that you were unstoppable in pursuing it. What obstacles did you overcome to get there?
  • As you listen to the answers to those questions, pay close attention to both the tasks and the duration described. “Try to get a sense of how long that person can stick it out. How long are they going to beat their head against a problem?”

For rigor, ask:

  • Tell us about a time you used data to make a decision.
  • Look for details about the complexity of the data and how the thinking happened, rather than focusing on them immediately getting to the right answer.

For impact, ask:

  • 1) Tell us about a time you had a measurable (read: quantitative) impact on a job or an organization.
  • 2) Tell us about a person or organization that you admire. Why do you think they have made an important impact?
  • You’re looking for signs that the candidate understands the larger picture, and that they can speak to the importance of making trade-offs and prioritizing appropriately.

For teamwork, ask:

  • 1) When working on a team, what's hardest for you?
  • 2) What about a time you worked on a difficult team? What was your role and experience? Do you know where the other people involved were coming from? Tell us about the situation from their perspective.
  • 3) What makes you happiest and most effective when working with others?
  • You want to use their answers to measure EQ and ability to empathize. Are they able to acknowledge and understand the experiences of those around them?

For ownership, ask:

  • Tell us about a time you experienced what you perceive to be an injustice.
  • "Regardless of their answer, empathize with the unfairness," Hamilton says. "Say, ‘Are you kidding? That's crazy. What a jerk.’ True owners will immediately respond with something like, ‘Yeah, but I recognized it wasn't worth my time to complain about it.’ They won’t buy in and double down on venting or complaining."

For curiosity, ask:

  • What's the last thing you really geeked out about?
  • You're looking for them to say something they then obsessively taught themselves about. "If someone doesn’t have that quality — if they don’t need to learn every single detail of the topic in front of them — they’re probably not going to reflect that level of engagement in their work, either.”

For polish:

  • 1) See how they handle themselves when you interject or interrupt them in the conversation.
  • 2) Do they send a thank you note shortly after the conversation?
  • You're looking for calm confidence when they might otherwise be flustered or thrown off their game. Gratitude following an interview indicates humility and a sense of professional standards that will translate into their work.

I doubt that these will be the exact interview questions you will be asked. But I do think that this provides some insight into the interviewer's mind, and a good template to prepare some good answers with concrete examples of traits that you have that are highly sought after by companies.

4. Questions You Should Ask in a Sales Job Interview

At the end of every interview, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. This isn’t just a formality, and it’s certainly not a chance for you to just coast. Your interviewers will be evaluating your potential—especially your customer engagement skills—during this segment of the sales job interview. To do well, prepare thoughtful questions.

Here are some good general questions to ask -

  • What does the day-to-day look like?
  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • What's your personal favorite thing about working for the company?
  • Are their opportunities for professional development?
  • How is success measured for the role?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of the role?
  • Is there any part of my background or resume that makes you hesitant that I might be a good fit for the role?
The above questions are great to ask to anyone from the Recruiter, to the Sales Manager. But if you are actually talking to the Sales Manager or a current SDR or AE, you can get a lot more specific -
  • Can you walk me through the sales process? (You can ask followup questions, like "What roadblocks do you normally face at this step in the process?")
  • What does the training and on-boarding process look like? How long is the typical ramp up period? (This shows you are already thinking about how to succeed in the role)
  • Who are the top SDRs and what makes them different?
  • How do the quotas work, and what other performance metrics are we measured on? How many reps meet or exceed quota?
  • What current challenges does the sales team face?
  • How does the commission work, and how much do the highest earners make? (You should only ask this towards the back end of the interview process, and definitely not on the 1st call)
I pulled many of these questions from this blog post and this one, and you can read them for more detailed info.

All this interview preparation obviously won't get you a top SDR job on its own. You need a good resume, relevant experience, top-notch communication skills, and a "personality fit." But those things are what they are, and out of your control by the time you are interviewing. The preparation outlined in this post is what you can control, and a little bit of extra effort and preparation can definitely pay off.

And my closing thought is this - prepare but don't overthink it. I'm worried that some candidates might read this post and feel like they have a mountain of preparation to do. Or that too much preparation will prevent you from being able to think on the fly, or just be yourself in the interview process. Don't let that happen.

Once the interview starts, you must trust in the preparation, and be fully engaged and confident, and 100% genuine. When I reflect on my own career, being 100% genuine and true to myself has prevented me from getting hired at companies where I didn't belong, and steered towards opportunities that were the perfect fit.

If you get cut from the interview process, then it just wasn't meant to be. Reflect, learn from it, and move on to the next. If you get super discouraged when it doesn't go your way, then you probably shouldn't be in sales anyways.

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